Facebook News Service to Debut on Android, Not iOS

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Facebook has begun testing a revamped version of Instant Articles, a subscription news service that erects paywalls around articles and directs users to publishers’ external subscription sites, Techcrunch reports. As of now, publishers can choose from two options: they can either allow a certain number of free articles to users before pushing them to subscribe, or lock certain articles behind a paywall. High profile publications including The Economist, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times have already climbed aboard the new platform. Users with existing subscriptions can authenticate them within Facebook’s platform to get access to Instant Articles.

“We know subscriptions are an important business model for many in the news industry, that’s why we’ve been working hand-in-hand with publishers to create a product that will drive real value for them. We’re committed to this effort and optimistic that we’ll launch a test on all mobile platforms soon”, Facebook spokesperson Campbell Brown said.

While Instant Articles is all set to debut on Android, Facebook has a hit a snag in negotiations with Apple over how the revenue should be split. According to Recode, the iPhone maker is demanding as much as a 30 percent cut, whereas Facebook wants all of it to go to publishers.

The impasse has dragged on despite months of discussions and stems from a technicality: Apple’s policy is to take 30 percent of subscription revenue, deeming it to be an “in-app” purchase, even if the Facebook app sends users to the publishers’ third-party websites to subscribe and make payments. After the first year, Apple reduces its take to 15 percent. Apple’s strict interpretation of this rule is meant to prevent other subscription services like Amazon from directing users outside of the app to sign up for subscription plans, and the tech giant is able to pull it off thanks to the outsize share of the smartphone market it controls.

The news service will roll out in a few weeks without iOS support, and it’s not clear whether the dispute will ever be resolved. Both Apple and Facebook have declined to comment on the disagreement

Google, on the other hand, is willing to take nothing, Recode reports, citing sources familiar with Facebook’s plans. The generous revenue-sharing arrangement has already attracted ten major publishers worldwide: Bild, The Boston Globe, The Economist, Hearst, La Repubblica, Le Parisien, Spiegel, The Telegraph, Tronc, and The Washington Post.

Instant Articles first debuted in 2015 without paywalls and limited ad space. Publishers signed on despite their misgivings in the belief that the faster load times and seamless mobile experience offered by the platform would lead to expanded distribution and traffic. They were later disappointed by revelations that Facebook’s algorithm deprioritized Instant Articles in favor of user-generated content, among other issues, leading The New York Times and The Chicago Tribune to quit the platform, The Verge reports.

“We have a responsibility to create an informed community and help build common understanding.”

The 2017 revenue-sharing arrangement offered by Instant Articles is part of a broader attempt to cultivate a friendlier relationship with journalists and the media going forward, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared in a post in August.

“I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year meeting with news organizations to talk about how we can work better together. As more people get more of their news from places like Facebook, we have a responsibility to create an informed community and help build common understanding”, Zuckerberg wrote. “Our goal is to work more closely with newsrooms to develop products like Instant Articles and tools for journalists to report their stories. We’re also working with publishers, researchers and universities to help people become more informed about the news they read online.”

Facebook also promised publishers that it would continue improving ad performance in its announcement, noting that in the past year, “average revenue per page view has increased over 50%, and Instant Articles pays out more than $1 million per day to publishers via Audience Network.”

Instant Articles is part of the Facebook Journalism Project, a collaborative program with the aim of helping the social network “develop products, learn from journalists about ways we can be a better partner, and work with publishers and educators on how we can equip people with the knowledge they need to be informed readers in the digital age.”

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